How to Get Started on a Low Carbohydrate Diet

by Sergio Rivera

Don’t you just hate indefinite answers?

Two years ago, I asked my friend Mark questions about how I should go about my diet. Mark is a nutritionist working in a local hospital. I figured this guy must have a diet hack or two up his sleeves.

“If I want to lose weight fast and easy, what should I be eating? And how much?” I asked.

Back then my dietary habits were in disarray. I was losing weight albeit at a slow pace.

I prayed that Mark could lead me towards an instant weight loss elixir.

“It depends.” He replied.

“Depends on what?”

“Depends on a lot of things.” My friend was getting more open-ended by the second.

The conversation started to feel like one that you’d have with a sales agent of some expensive diet program. I had so many questions – how much weight am I going to lose? How fast? Is this going to be a difficult time for me?

Mark seemed to have only one answer for all these questions – It depends.

Boy do I hate indefinite answers.

“It Depends”, it turns out, may just be the perfect answer

Now that I’ve gained so much insight into the intricacies of weight loss, I’ve realized that Mark’s answer was spot on. Methods and results do depend on a lot of factors.

The phrase “It depends” was indefinite, and yet it was spot on.

What you should be eating and how much, depends on your goals. How much weight you want to lose and how fast all depends on your strategy, dedication, and commitment.

A diet will be either difficult or enjoyable depending on your attitude towards eating.

Man, I wish I could give you definite answers on how you should go about your low carbohydrate diet. But I can’t. What I can do is give you a few points to ponder on.

These points should be enough to serve as building blocks for your new diet plan. How you’re going to stack ‘em up… well that depends on you.

First Thing’s First: Define your Goals

Most people make the mistake of plunging into a diet without a goal. That’s like driving your car to a new, far-away destination, without using a map, and without GPS.

So before you start your low carb diet, ask yourself. What are you dieting for?

Are you in it to lose just a few pounds? Or are you in for the long haul, slow but sure fat loss in the long run?

Whatever your answer is, you need to understand your goals so you can decide how low-carb you’re supposed to go. Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint Carbohydrate Curve serves as a wonderful guide for this purpose:

Goal

Daily Carb Consumption

Accelerated Fat Burning

0-50 grams/day

Effortless Weight Loss

50-100 grams/day

Maintenance

100-150 grams/day

Steady, Insidious Weight Gain

150-300 grams/day

Danger Zone (Accelerated Fat Buildup)

300 or more grams/day

 

Remember that we respond more to carb restriction than fat or protein restriction. So while the daily carb consumption column looks pretty much linear, in the real world there’s a big difference between 0 grams/day and 50 grams/day.

The lower you go, the faster and better the results. Bear in mind however, that more abrupt results may come with more intense side effects– high risk, high reward.

For instance, you get the following side effects from 0 to 60 grams of carbs per day. The lower your carb intake within this range, the greater the intensity of these symptoms:

  1. Sluggishness and a general lack of motivation;
  2. Constipation;
  3. Frequent urination;
  4. Dry mouth, bad breath, and metallic tastes on your tongue; and
  5. Increased food cravings.

If you think you can’t risk suffering from these side effects, then you better take the more conservative route.

Second: Be Picky with Your Fat and Protein Sources

Now that you’re on a low carb diet, it makes more sense to hunt down hidden carbs than if you were eating a regular balanced meal.

That said, carb-proof your protein and fat sources. Anything cured or processed may contain hidden sugars. Fresh is still the way to go, and there’s no substitute to grass-fed meat.

Remember that carb restriction is not equal to calorie restriction. This means that you have to make up for lost carbs by eating more fat and protein. The goal here is to keep up with your caloric requirements as much as possible. Otherwise your brain will produce hormones that exaggerate your appetite and intensify your cravings. These two reactions happen when your body thinks that you’re starving in the middle of a hopeless famine.

Also remember nature did not create all fats equal. You have to be meticulous in choosing the right types of fat. Saturated and monounsaturated fat sources are good in general. Consume polyunsaturated fats in moderation, and avoid trans-fats at all costs.

Take a close look at your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio. Most high fat diets tip the ratio in favor of omega-6 fats. That is not ideal as a high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio promotes cardiovascular disease, cancer, and autoimmune disease.

The typical American diet is already rich in omega-6 fat sources. This means that the best way to regain omega-6 to omega-3 balance is not to avoid the former. It’s consuming more of the latter.

One of the simplest ways you can up your omega-3 intake is to either eat omega-3 rich fish like wild salmon, Atlantic mackerel, and rainbow trout, or supplement your diet with fish oil.

Third: Make Fat Your Friend

One of the most common reasons why people fail with low carb dieting is because they are apprehensive about fat, and not willing to increase their fat intake. When this happens, a low carb diet turns into a bad case of acute starvation.

In low carbohydrate diets, there is no other option but to embrace fat as your primary macronutrient for energy. Since protein levels will more or less be stable all throughout, it cannot make up for the absence of carbohydrates. After all, protein is only as energy-dense as carbs at 4 calories per gram.

That, and too much protein can lead to weight gain, kidney problems, and dehydration.

Fat is in a better position to give you the much needed energy in the place of carbohydrates. It’s more energy dense at 9 calories per gram.

No sustainable low carb diet plan has low carbohydrate and low fat prescriptions. You need to eat fat for energy, and you will have to find a way to enjoy these fat sources if you are going to enjoy the entire diet journey.

Making fat your friend should work wonders on your morale. Most fat sources are as enjoyable as your high carbohydrate treats. In that regard, tasty fat choices gives you a refreshing time in the midst of a massive diet overhaul.

Most of us grew up in a time when fat was the ultimate evil. So if you’re unsettled by the thought of going high fat, better suspend your low carb diet for a while. Going low carb and low fat will only lead to you binge eating and eating more than you would if you were on a conventional balanced diet.

Fourth: Eat More Salt

Low-carb diets force your insulin levels to go lower. Insulin is responsible for telling your kidneys to hold on to sodium. Thus on low carb diets, your kidneys dump sodium out of your body.

In cases where your sodium levels are not replenished, you may experience a few problems. In the short term, you may have to deal with headaches and light-headedness. In the long run, you will experience fatigue and may suffer from constipation.

Unless you’re taking diuretic medication, the easiest way to circumvent these issues is to add 2 to 3 grams of salt to your daily diet. You might need a bit more if you exercise, because sodium levels decline as you sweat.

Fifth: Exercise to be Fit, Not to Lose Weight

If you’re having weight issues, it might be wiser to lose weight first through diet alone, before looking to shed fat by working out. Aside from leaking a lot of sodium and other electrolytes during exercise, overweight individuals are at higher risks of injury. You might just end up injuring your joints and large muscle groups; a needless complication to your weight problems.

You need not worry about stunted weight loss in the absence of exercise. A good diet is 85% of the game. You’ll still lose weight even if you stay at home, breaking a sweat every now and then via light exercise.

Stay active at home. Wash the dishes and do the laundry. Walk your dog around the neighborhood every now and then, and take the stairs when you’re at the mall. All these things add up without you facing the risks of injury.

“Patience you must have, my young Padawan” – Yoda

Fat loss takes time. It takes patience.

Results won’t always be obvious when they come. You might hit a plateau and feel bad because you can’t match the rapid weight loss during your first week on the diet.

By the way, most of the weight you lose early in the diet is water. So don’t judge your progress over your weight loss in the first few days. Otherwise you’ll think that the diet is not working anymore just because you can’t lose as much water weight during the second or third month.

Human beings are a species of habit, which means you need to make a lot of conscious decisions about your dietary routines before you can change them. There will be days when carb cravings will be very strong. Nothing will feel right for a while.

Your relationships might also encounter changes during the first few weeks on the diet. You might feel a little left out when you’re eating low carb food, while everybody else on the table is eating the usual high carb feast.

You might even have to apologize to your buddies for missing out on your regular happy hour timeslot.

Once you’re over the first few weeks, everything should find its own groove. Everything’s going to be fine. Everything’s going to feel a lot better.

You’ll find it easier, even automatic, to go for healthier choices. Your friends and family will, by now, have gotten used to your new practices. And you won’t have to be apologetic for being different.

Who knows, you might even change their habits for the better.

You didn’t get fat in a day, so it should be right to think that you won’t lose all that fat in a day. It takes conscious effort, and to some extent, social support.

Find people who are on the same journey as you are, and don’t ever forget to enjoy your open meals during cheat days. One cookie tastes like a thousand when you’re in the middle of a low carb diet.

Keep the faith on your diet and it won’t be long before it becomes a lifestyle.

Ready to take on the low carb challenge?

Keep these points in mind for a better shot at success!

If you have questions or comments, the comments section below should be a good place for a discussion. I’ll be around to answer your queries and witness your transformation.

Enjoy your journey to fat loss and better health,

Getting started on a low carbohydrate diet can be life-changing. So before you embark on a low carb diet journey, be sure to check these points out. It pays well to be prepared.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Chandan January 13, 2015 at 12:44 pm

Nice article Sergio!!!…My problem is that when ever i go on low carb my performance in Gym declines and sleep quality worsens.

Any tips specially for consistent progression in gym on low carb Diet?

Reply

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